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Fort Cochin is the area with the most historic charm and, compared with most Indian cities, a thoroughly laid-back vibe; best here are Le Colonial (utterly sumptuous interiors), Brunton Boatyard (waterfront location), Malabar House (chichi decor), and Old Harbour Hotel (best value and a wonderful atmosphere). In fact, this small enclave has the highest density of heritage accommodations in the country, so it's hard to be disappointed here. Alternatively, if you demand a large, full-amenity hotel, opt for Willingdon Island, a 10-minute ferry ride away, and useful if you really want to be far away from the crowds -- it's hassle-free, although also a little empty on atmosphere.

If you don't mind being far from the ambience of Fort Kochi and the harbor, there's one relaxing out-of-town option worth considering Far more satisfying, however, and Kochi's best opportunity for a beach experience, is the thoroughly laid-back Cherai Beach Resorts, some 30km (19 miles, or 40 min.) north of Kochi by road, or 15km (9 1/3 miles) from the Vypeen jetty. Savvy locals swear by the place, both as a chance for respite from the daily grind, and for its dining, so don't turn your nose up just because it's pretty basic. Ask for a heritage cottage with an open-air bathroom and patio on stilts overlooking the backwaters; although the newer rooms are sleeker, they lack the charm of these. Service and amenities may be obvious shortfalls, but the location at the edge of one of Kerala's most scintillating (and relatively undiscovered) beaches will definitely make up for this; besides, the Ayurvedic rejuvenation massages are a treat, and the Keralite meals superb. And it's a very good value at Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,500 (tel. 0484/248-1818 or 0484/241-6949; www.cheraibeachresorts.com).

Fort Kochi

If you're on a tight budget, make an advance booking (do make sure that it's one of three that has a balcony) at the seven-room Raintree Lodge (1/618 Petercelli St.; www.nivalink.com/raintreelodge; raintree@fortcochin.com; Rs 2,000-Rs 2,300 double plus 15% tax). It's located in the heart of the old town; guest rooms are no-frills, but clean and decorated with antiques and objets, and the beds are comfortable; tubs look worse for wear but overhead showers mean you don't have to lie in them. Because it's so small (although some rooms are disproportionately large) with no public amenities (bar a rooftop with a relatively nice view), it feels rather like renting a tiny flat, although you can rent bikes, arrange transfers and get guides through the friendly check-in clerk.

If you're looking for a genuine homestay experience, there's no beating Delight -- particularly if staying with warm and hospitable people is of any significance (what other reason would you have for choosing a homestay?). Alternatively, if you value comfort over personality, have a look at slightly more expensive Bernard Bungalow (1/297 Parade Rd.; tel. 0984/742-7999, 0484/221-6162 or -6160; www.bernardbungalow.com; Rs 1,500-Rs 3,500 double, depending on room and season), run with an iron hand by Coral Bernard. She's a bit of a battleaxe but her rooms are so clean you could practically eat off the floor. Pick a room upstairs and you'll feel very much a part of the home she's lived in for the past 30 years, without actually encroaching on her space (don't bother with the rooms on the ground floor). Pick room 105 and you get to overlook The Malabar House next door; at press time, Coral was adding one or two new rooms, but its safe to say that she is retaining her homestay roots despite a more guesthouselike presentation -- after all, she and husband, Bernard, lived here 32 years before opening up for guests. Also recommended is Walton's Home Stay (Princess St.; tel. 0484/221-5309; www.waltonshomestay.com), which has recently had a face-lift that has greatly improved its nine rooms (they all have private verandas and are air-conditioned; Rs 1,200-Rs 2,600 double); and the even better-value Noah's Ark Homestay.

Willingdon Island

Besides the two very smart options here, there's also one very well run, good-value option in the form of old-fashioned Casino Hotel (tel. 0484/266-8211 or 0484/301-1568; www.cghearth.com), the eponymous headquarters of high-end eco-conscious chain, CGH Earth. Like the Trident, it's a little far from the historic sights and without any sort of view (watery or otherwise), but it offers all the comforts and amenities you'll need (including a superb seafood restaurant, Fort Cochin, reviewed), and service is just lovely. High-season rates start at 115€ double (breakfast and taxes included).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.